The plant kingdom provides mankind with a wealth of beautiful, fragrant, culinary and medicinal plants. Many simply life enhancing for their beauty, flavour or perfume, others, which even if not life-saving, certainly have health benefits which help us restore the balance of health when it is disturbed or dis-eased.
Culinary and strewing herbs were used many centuries before this one, to help combat disease and prevent illness and disguise the taste of food which was ‘off’. Stockmen would use their knowledge of wild plants to feed and medicate their animals just as the physicians, monks, druids and wise women had done for generations. With the advent of modern medicine, and particularly the pharmaceutical industry, much of this knowledge and understanding has been forgotten.
Many of the drugs used in modern medicine were originally derived from plants. The use of plants as medicine is innate in both man and beast. Animals have been observed to eat particular herb or plant species only when they need it medicinally. The particular plant or herb often never plays a regular role in the animal’s regular diet.
Animals use herbs to rid themselves of parasites, induce labour, relieve diarrhoea and even to control fertility. Mankind has used herbs for food, perfume and medicine for thousands of years. Commercial drug production is a relatively new phenomena compared to the use of plants in our history.
When animals, and indeed people, are removed from their natural environment, they are deprived of access to this herbal medicine chest that nature freely provides. Our own hunter-gatherer lifestyle now consists of shopping, sport, business or even war and criminality. Many ancient skills and crafts are being lost in the mists of time as we no longer have to build our own dwellings or produce our own food.
Drug Company Rights and Wrongs
Herbal medicine is viewed by some as ‘primitive’ and ‘dangerous’. The ‘Powers that Be’ seek to protect us from both charlatans and our own folly by regulating which herbs we can purchase. Of course there are some dangerous and illegal herbs which are controlled substances, on the other hand there are herbs and foods which are freely available in other countries such as Japan or Finland for example, and have a long history of safe use. These are controlled for financial gain as they are natural competitors to commercial enterprise. Stevia versus Aspartame is a classic example of a marketed product which is more harmful than a natural sweetener.
Surely when drugs companies extract the most important ingredients and refine them that makes for better medicine? Well, yes and no… Drugs companies cannot Patent Protect a plant, but they can Patent Protect an extract. Standardised extracts guarantee a certain level of one or more active ingredients, and that can be a great advantage, on the other hand meadowsweet herb, a naturally occurring source of salicylic acid, the active ingredient in aspirin, contains other chemical compounds which buffer the acidic effect on the stomach.